So sophisticated is the South African food and drink scene now that you can expect to find suggested wine pairings at practically every restaurant you go to but some wine farms have made even more of a feature of their skill at combining the two - a fun way of learning the art of matching food and wine.
I visited three during my recent visit, the most ambitious of which was at Creation in Hemel-en-Aarde whose owner Carolyn Martin has taken a keen interest in food and wine matching since the winery was opened in 2007. For a very reasonable R125 (£8.92) per person you can order a selection of ‘wine pairing canapés‘ to sit and nibble in their light, airy tasting room. (There’s also a vegetarian version).
The pairings are spot on, not only showing off the food but flattering the wines (by no means as common as you’d think) making the long drive up a dirt track to the winery well worthwhile (don’t worry, you will get there!).
Highlights for me were an aubergine and goats’ cheese cannelloni with the Creation Sauvignon Blanc (goats cheese and Sauvignon is a well-established pairing but the aubergine really made the flavours of the wine sing), Viognier with a chicken laksa-flavoured bite, wild mushrooms on polenta with the Creation Pinot Noir (always a reliable match) and - less expected - a chorizo empanadita with the Syrah. All delicious and really imaginative. They also offer a 'surprise' 4 course wine pairing for R180 (£12.89).
At La Motte in Franschhoek the Wine and Food Tasting Experience is just one of a number of experiences you can enjoy including an organic walk, historical walk and visit to the permanent Pierneef exhbition. (Pierneef was one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists.)
What I liked about this tasting, which just took top prize in the 2013 Drinks International Wine Tourism awards, was that it went into that the basic principles of food and wine pairing - what the main taste sensations are (sweetness, acidity, salt, bitterness and umami) and how different areas of the tongue can pick them up.
The thinking behind each of the pairings is also really well explained - for example that the acidity of tomatoes works with the acidity in Sauvignon Blanc and that the big tannins of Cabernet need fat to smooth them out.
Again the food is high quality - from the restaurant kitchen - giving you a good sense of what it would be like to pair the wines with dishes at home. You need to book ahead if you want to do the pairing which takes place on Fridays and costs R120 (£8.59)
Other wineries focus on one particular food. For example the innovative new Spice Route visitor centre in Paarl has a wine and chocolate pairing which features the artisanal De Villiers chocolate which is also made on the farm.
They’re really quite bold about this, pairing chocolate with dry white wines rather than sweet. (I didn’t expect it to work but the ripe gooseberry and tropical fruit flavours of the Spice Route Darling Sauvignon Blanc went surprisingly well with the citrus and raisin flavours of a 70% Madagascar chocolate bar. And the rich, brambly Mourvèdre was great with the berry flavours or a Venezuelan Caracas. I haven't always been convinced about this but plain dark chocolate and red wine really can hit it off. You can also attend a chocolate tasting in the Manor Farm building where they make the chocolate.
Spice Route’s neighbouring property Fairview, also owned by the enterprising Charles Back, offers a food and wine tasting too - in this instance with cheese from their famous herd of goats*. We ran out of time to visit it this time but you could easily take in both farms in a day.
You can also do a chocolate and wine tasting around the lovely Tuscan-style courtyard at Waterford in Stellenbosch. I’ll be adding more food and wine tasting experiences as I discover them.
*They also offer a Junior Cheese Masters experience which shows kids how to make cheese